The National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia is displaying several hundred antiquities from among the thousands illegally exported and now repatriated to Italy. They are mainly from central and southern Italy and are part of an exhibition that documents a decade-long criminal investigation and legal battle to obtain pieces that were sold abroad after clandestine excavations all over Italy.
Alongside display cases of repatriated Etruscan artefacts from Cerveteri and Vulci are descriptions of the methods of trafficking and laundering antiquities such as Polaroid photographs of broken and reassembled pieces inside tombs, receipts from auction houses and an art dealer’s journal. The antiques were usually exported to Switzerland and stored in a bonded warehouse in Geneva, before being re-sold to museums and private collectors all over the world.
The most famed piece on display is the Euphronios vase dating to the 6th-century BC. Decorated with Trojan War scenes and signed by the Greek artist it is now part of the permanent collection at the Villa Giulia. It is believed to have been excavated illegally from the Greppe S. Angelo necropolis in Cerveteri in the 1970s, quickly transferred to a bonded warehouse in Switzerland and then sold by an American art dealer to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for $1 million.
A documentary explains the stages of the looting of goods in Italy and Greece throughout the past century and the importance of the returned pieces. The story of these artefacts can also be found in two books in English entitled The Medici Conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, and Chasing Aphrodite: The hunt for looted antiquities by Jason Felch.
Collaboration between Italy’s Carabinieri and the Swiss police has lead to the discovery and seizure of more than 3,000 precious Greek, Roman and Etruscan artefacts.